Criminality and Punishment


Crime and Punishment

Prolifers should speak about abortion as murder, and the consequences for both the innocent and wider society.

“Crime? He suddenly shouted out, in an uncontrollable rage. He cried out in an uncontrollable rage, “I killed a pernicious, evil louse,” he said. I’m not thinking of it, nor am I thinking of washing it away.”

These words of Rodion Raskolnikov, protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, are hard to forget. We are quick to justify our crimes and to be able to see the justifications of wickedness from another person makes it hard to swallow with both horror and familiarity. We can clearly see not just the crime but the self-deceit that goes along with it from such a far distance.

Likewise when the New York Times writes of “the grim future an abortion ban would bring,” which, in the estimation of its primary source, would result in Americans “finding dead babies everywhere: in trash bags, in trash cans, in toilets, in fields.” Not only is the proposition itself horrific, but the very language should make the crime so obvious: “dead babies.” Go home, folks, the work of the pro-life movement has been accomplished. Now, the left admits that a foetus can be considered a child and that life begins at conception. Right?

No, it’s not.

Well, of course not. It couldn’t be, despite the facetious language of “health care” or “reproductive rights” used by the left to describe infanticide, because the same radicals have always argued that in the case of rape or incest, an abortion is a mercy to the victim, saving her from raising her assaulter’s child. It is obviously a baby. The question is how can we get rid of it in an orderly, acceptable manner. This mentality is about children’s inconvenience. It also carries on to others outside of the womb.

The question isn’t when a foetus can be considered a human being, but rather when it becomes one that she will protect with the same passion as her mother–if both of their lives are equal in value. Raskolnikov attempts to answer this question when he kills her older sister and pawnbroker, who were not only insignificant, but also potentially harmful to society. He argues that it is not possible for exceptional men like himself to overcome such barriers to their greater goals. This is exactly the question Nietzsche would pose a few decades later.

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For abortionists, this murder is a mercy to both the child, who clearly isn’t wanted–at least, not at the time of conception–and the mother, who loses her autonomy through the act of carrying and raising him. Is it possible for the mother to be single and the father abusive of the child? He might be a rapist. Is it possible that she couldn’t provide for her son? Is it possible that his existence could be detrimental to the environment? According to logic, the child is more at peace dead than alive, so it is unfair for his mother not to make this decision.

Also, it isn’t as bad to kill him now than later. Or so we are taught. Singerian logic dictates that human life is no different to the animals of the field, even if a baby’s self-consciousness is still developing. These lives can all be eliminated because of the utilitarian logic. This includes the old, infirm and disabled. It is therefore not only acceptable, but also right and appropriate to relieve them of their misery (or any potential future misery in the case of the unborn child).

The Washington Post sketches us a good picture of how this logic works in the minds of average Americans, who are not reading Dostoevsky, Nietszche, or Peter Singer. The Post‘s subject, 18-year-old Brooke Alexander from Texas, changes her mind about aborting her twin babies after hearing their heartbeats in an ultrasound at a pro-life pregnancy center. Alexander asks if aborting her twins would constitute murder, as they have heartbeats. She is rightly horrified by the thought and says, “Who can say what I would do if this law was not in force?”

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Any mother would tell you there’s truth to these words. But it may not be the truth that the journalist believes she captured. A trigger can be pulled from faraway locations, but it is different than pulling the trigger at point blank. A miscarriage at six weeks devastates in a different way than it does at 26 weeks, but it still devastates. These statements don’t tell us anything about the morality or how we can stomach such deaths. It is easier to forget the horror and continue on, seeing less. The tragedy remains.

The story does not end here. The majority of Crime and Punishment follows Raskolnikov as he wrestles with guilt and his anguish with himself for being guilty, which he sees as weakness, a failure to become a truly great man. Dostoevsky’s epilogue states that this was all he acknowledged as his crime. Raskolnikov’s guilt is too much to bear.

How much more devastating is it to murder an unborn baby, whose innocence was not yet proven? How much greater is the guilt of the woman who makes a slaughterhouse of her womb?

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The old arguments about life beginning at conception are not passe because they are not true, but because they are running 100 yards behind the times, trying to catch up. The pro-life movement has been presented an opportunity, with the overturn of Roe, to reframe its message. It must start by describing murder in simple terms and the consequences for both the innocent and society.

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When we do so, when we admit the crime and confess our guilt, we may, like Raskolnikov, find “instead of dialectics, there was life, and something completely different [has] to work itself out in [our] consciousness.”

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